In 2010, St. Petersburg, FL earned the No. 1 ranking as America’s Arts Destination for mid-sized cities by AmericanStyle Magazine. The accolade is well-earned thanks to numerous world-class art museums and galleries that call St. Pete home, such as The Dali Museum, The Chihuly Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts, and the Duncan McClellan Gallery.
St. Pete’s seven arts districts are drenched in over 50 outdoor murals by artists from all over the world. Local artists and makers pack the St. Pete's indie markets on a regular basis to sell their crafts. St. Pete is undeniably a vibrant arts city. But the one art medium that doesn’t often shine as bright as the rest in St. Pete is performing arts. Enter Unscripted Theatre.
After quietly opening their doors at the beginning of November, Unscripted Theatre became St. Petersburg’s only dedicated stage for improv comedy. For the uninitiated, improv is an acting style where the entire scene is created by the improvisors in real time, without using a prepared script. According to Unscripted co-owner and artistic director Nicholas Riggs, “When you come here, you will never see anything like this again. This is only happening in this moment and it’s gone once you leave. There is something very wonderful and beautiful about that.”
The theater occupies half of a historic house built in 1924. A wine bar will open on the other side of the house in February. At only 750 square feet, Unscripted feels intimate — the kind of intimacy that allows you to witness the fascinating nuance of each improvisor’s acting style.
Once inside, a snack bar greets you with a variety of food and drinks, including beer and wine. An industrial vibe is an ode to the previous tenants, The Foundry which specialized in mid-century modern furniture.
Located at 14 18th Street South, the modestly sized 36-seat theater hosts five unique hour-long shows every weekend — two on Friday night and three on Saturday night. In addition to the weekly show offerings, there will be sketch comedy (think Saturday Night Live), stand-up comedy, and an improv show titled Flash Fiction performed on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Thursday of every month.
Admission is $10 in advance or $15 at the door (or 2 tickets for $25). However, if you attend an early show, you can get into the late shows free of charge.
If you’d rather be on the stage than in the audience, Unscripted Theatre teaches classes for all skill levels. This season, Unscripted is offering Improv Foundations, their level 1 class. As the name suggests, this class will train you in the basics of improvisational theater. It is also a prerequisite for taking the more advanced "level" courses, which will be offered in the future.
Next season, which begins in March, Unscripted will offer their level 1 and 2 classes in addition to a six week long Improv for Business class, where you will learn how to apply improv skills on the job. Classes in stand-up and sketch are in the works too. All classes lead up to a graduation show to be performed in front of friends and family.
Improv classes aren’t just for those with a performing arts background either. It promotes a better way of living that everyone can benefit from. “Improv teaches you about open mindedness, saying “yes” to things, being alright with weird, and understanding timing in everyday conversation,” says Hannah Prince, Creative Director at Unscripted. Some even find performing improv to be therapeutic.
The ambitious minds behind Unscripted Theatre are Nicholas Riggs, Hannah Prince and Warren Buchholz. They met back in 2012 during a 12-week improv workshop at the University of South Florida (USF) led by Kari Goetz, a legend in the Tampa Bay theater community.
The three eventually established a long-form improv troupe, Post Dinner Conversation, but they struggled to attract audiences who were interested in improv. According to Riggs, “Our first show was a dog and a lady playing scrabble by herself.”
In an effort to legitimize themselves, they filed the newly formed group as a non-profit and decided to print t-shirts using a $250 grant they received. Eventually, Post Dinner Conversation began to take off.
The next step was the creation of the Tampa Bay Improv Festival in 2013. Now in its fourth year, the annual festival attracts improv troupes from all of the big improv cities, such as New York City, Chicago, and Atlanta. Today, the Tampa Bay Improv Festival is one of the largest improv festivals in the southeastern United States. It also gave Riggs, Prince and Bucholtz the credibility they needed to open up their own improv theater.
In their first 2 months in business, Unscripted Theatre has had a promising start. “The community knew us so well because of the festival that they started to come out of the woodwork and now we draw people from everywhere we’ve ever come into contact with,” says Riggs.
So, next time you are wondering how to fill your Friday or Saturday night, why not experience the magic of improv comedy at Unscripted Theatre. You can even cap off the night with a jazz set at the neighboring Hideaway Cafe or craft beers and burgers at The Burg Bar and Grill.